Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Bengaluru FC could soon take on Scottish football giants Rangers FC, with whom they had entered into a partnership last year, in a pre-season friendly, Gary Gibson, Rangers’ Head of Soccer Schools & International Relations, revealed.
In an interview with the Scottish club’s media team, Gibson spoke at length about Rangers’ partnership with Bengaluru FC, how and future plans.
“There were a number of really exciting projects ready to kick off and then obviously due to the current situation it’s not happened… There was a first team game arranged as part of pre-season, so we’ll look at Rangers playing Bengaluru at some point,” he said when asked about upcoming projects.
Gibson further added how the Rangers U18 team would have flown to IIS Bellary, a campus that impressed the club immensely, for a training camp. “Our under 18s were duty to fly across, for a training camp and I mentioned the Inspire Institute, that’s where the squad would have trained. So that that would have been an excellent opportunity for the school to go and do that,” he said.
Apparently, two BFC youngsters were also supposed to go over to Glasgow but the pandemic halted the plan. Gibson said, “And the two young players coming across from Bangalore, who were to get that implemented at some point and when it’s safe to do so… well also as partly the National Soccer Academy we would have coaches gone across to India, we’ll then start to have groups coming from Bangalore… so really excited.”
Earlier in September last year, Bengaluru had announced a two-year collaboration with Rangers. Then, Bala Devi, the star of the Indian women’s football team, was signed by the Rangers Ladies team — a move which was facilitated by Bengaluru.
If you worked your memory really hard, chances are you will recognise Vijaykumar from one of these three places – the East Upper stand at the Kanteerava, tailoring ‘Hogappa Innond Togondba’ for our season campaign in 2017, and most recently alongside Blues’ skipper Sunil Chhetri for the launch of the 2020-21 Back On Our Feet campaign.
While his relationship with the Blues and the club staff stretches all the way back to 2013 when the club was announced a stone’s throw away from his little shop, Vijayakumar says the last few years have strengthened what was an already solid bond.
Pulling the shutters of his shop down after another slow day of businesses, Vijaykumar doesn’t wait for the locks to come on when he begins speaking with us. “I’m 56 now, and in my time I’ve watched ITI, HAL, KGF and many of the big clubs that have come and gone. I’ve been watching football all my life, but never once did I believe I’d get so close to a club or its staff and players,” he says.
His eatery – Ashwini Mess – has been running for 15 years and is his only source of income. To Vijayakumar, it was a dream come true, and a sense of pride to begin a business for himself, however small it was in the beginning.
“I’ve done all kinds of jobs, just to make ends meet. I worked at a Delhi-based cable company in Bengaluru first, then I worked cash-and-carry for the Metro when they started in the early 2000s, but I always believed that setting up my own business would be the day I could say I’ve accomplished something. I realized that dream just as I turned forty,” Vijayakumar recalls.
Set up in early 2005, Ashwini Mess began as a stall that served food on the streets. Saving up enough money to find himself a spot on Markham Road, Vijayakumar vividly remembers how happy he was the day it came through.
“We had been selling food on the streets for quite some time before I decided we needed to serve out of a solid structure. It was a long-drawn plan, we saved up a little every month and then put this place together. The people we met, the relationships we built, it saw a lot of regulars show up every day. If you think my shop is small, that only makes me happy, because it was so much smaller back in the day.”
But in all his time of running the show with its fair share of hurdles, Vijayakumar says he had never imagined that something as serious as a pandemic would come along to turn things upside down. He says these days have reminded him of a match he watched at the BFS many years ago.
“It was ITI and East Bengal, one of Indian football’s big rivalries at that point. It went on for three days! I cannot remember which year it was, but I can tell you it was in the 80s. There was crowd trouble on the first day, and the game was called off. The police intervened on the second day and it was called off once again. I went back for the third day too, and Mahendra Prasad scored the winner on the final day.”
It is a strange comparison, but for someone who watched his first game of football almost half a century ago, it is one that fits the bill perfectly.
“The last five months of my life have been like the first two days of that game. I wake up every morning, I go back to the shop, but it’s the same story. I’m doing everything I can, but nothing seems to change. I’ve always known there will be rainy days, and I’ve braced for those too. But this is a storm that gave no warning.”
The times have been tough, but finishing up with the interview, Vijayakumar says he draws inspiration from the Blues and some of their tougher moments.
“If you ask around, you’ll find that many people go back to remember the big wins and the trophy lifts. But my favourite moments are the ones that have seen BFC pushed back; by a goal, by a bad decision, by a result. It’s in those moments that the team, the fans and the club shows character. That’s the thing about Bengaluru FC that inspires me the most, and that’s what we need more than anything in these times; character.”
It is a well-documented fact that small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. With people forced to stay indoors and the fear of contracting the virus likely to stay embedded in the minds until a vaccine is widely available, a lot of livelihoods are at stake in a country where the informal workforce is left to fend for itself in a crisis.
A pandemic changes a lot of things. But does it have the power to change practices and dogma? In this context, sports in a society can play a stirring role in helping it unshackle the state of lethargy brought on by unforeseen circumstances.
Bengaluru FC, the football club owned by the JSW Group and formed in 2013, has made a distinctive mark for itself in the Indian football circuit through its astute functioning and exceptional performances on the field. Having talismanic footballer Sunil Chhetri in the squad has helped them create a passionate fanbase and the club has been able to forge an extraordinary bond with the supporters.
It has picked people and businesses that have a connection with the club and aims to promote those that have a trickle-down effect in the community – those that source their raw materials and goods from other local businesses.
In India, the adulation enjoyed by teams and cricketers in Indian Premier League can be matched only by movie stars.
So, have the teams and cricketers missed out an opportunity to help society?
Harish Bijoor, brand guru and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults, feels Bengaluru FC's initiative comes from their owners, sets the benchmark for bigger sports (read: cricket) and he would love to see this effort resonating with IPL teams.
"This initiative by Bengaluru FC is very good and it comes from the DNA of JSW. JSW has it in to look at causes. In the current environment, an initiative like this is a big positive. Football is still small despite Bengaluru FC being big in its own way. This should now resonate in every sport, particularly in cricket and especially in the IPL."
"I would love to see people laying these kind of pathways which will create positivity in the ‘hurt’ segment of the Indian economy. This segment comprises avid viewers of cricket and it is only right to give back to that segment. I definitely want a big mirror to be held to IPL and all of cricket," he told Moneycontrol.
Small football clubs are closer to the market than larger establishments like IPL teams.
Bijoor believes Bengaluru FC's efforts should inspire Royal Challengers Bangalore – the IPL team from the city – to come up with a similar initiative as they command a far bigger fan following.
"Every club plays its role within its own hinterland. I believe RCB can take a cue from Bengaluru FC. The bigger message is what happens in football, must reflect in cricket. If football can do it without demand, cricket can do it easily," he said.
Corporatisation has been a buzzword in Indian sports administration for quite some time. Bengaluru has been able to count on the financial prowess of its promoter, proving to be more than a match as a model club for established sides such as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, even during its infancy.
The club has been able to carve out a place for itself through its various fan-engagement programmes and its vibrancy has also attracted sponsors, which has proven to be a struggle for the majority of Indian football.
Bijoor feels the benefits brought about by corporatisation easily outweigh those of a sports club run by patrons.
"Corporate houses have a CSR programme and CSR has an important role. They bring in benefits in the form of a professional set-up and the CSR cascades into every terrain. So, it is a right approach," he said.
The umbilical cord between sports teams and fans faces a grave threat but this pandemic has also given a chance to the teams to lend out a helping hand to those who have displayed unflinching support despite many hurdles.
This year's IPL has come across as a beacon of hope for citizens looking to get away from gloom and despair. The teams and stakeholders now have a chance to take it up a notch higher.
Bengaluru FC, on Sunday, named a 32-man squad for the upcoming Indian Super League season, with as many as five U21 players making the cut. Skipper Sunil Chhetri will lead the side for an eighth consecutive season, as the Blues kick off their ISL campaign against FC Goa on November 22.
With 17 players from last season’s squad making the list again, the Blues keep their core intact heading into what will be their fourth Indian Super League campaign.
In Suresh Wangjam, Amay Morajkar, Dipesh Chauhan, Thoi Singh and Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha, the Blues fulfil the criteria for Developmental Players in the squad, which also comprises several players from the club’s Residential Academy and BFC B squad.
Juanan Gonzalez, Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu and Deshorn Brown are the foreign players retained by the Blues for the season, with the side having added to their attack and defence with the signings of Kristian Opseth, Cleiton Silva and Fran Gonzalez.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Lara Sharma, Dipesh Chauhan
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Pratik Chaudhari, Harmanjot Khabra, Fran Gonzalez, Juanan Gonzalez, Ajith Kumar, Wungngayam Muirang, Joe Zoherliana, Parag Shrivas, Biswa Darjee
Midfielders: Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Ajay Chhetri, Namgyal Bhutia, Suresh Wangjam, Naorem Roshan Singh, Amay Morajkar, Thoi Singh, Emanuel Lalchhanchuaha
Attackers: Sunil Chhetri, Cleiton Silva, Kristian Opseth, Deshorn Brown, Ashique Kuruniyan, Udanta Singh, Edmund Lalrindika, Leon Augustine, Thongkhosiem Haokip